I suffered through a few recurring-theme nightmares in my early childhood. Gorillas, drowning in quicksand, boxer dog chefs walking around on their hind legs and wielding carving knives, frying in the electric chair. But none of these generated the feelings of dread and terror that I developed in my teens and 20s over the prospect of a blue-collar, wage-earning life.

For many years I was absolutely horrified by the idea of having to get up at 6 am and report to work by 8 am or earlier, and being stuck with a physically demanding manual-labor job, especially in cold weather. My father was an advertising guy who always wore a suit. He commuted on a train and was never expected at the office before 9 or 9:30 am. That, to me, was a civilized, managable approach to work and earning a salary. Grunt-level blue-collar work always struck me as a brutal, punishing activity — the kind of work that was guaranteed to make you feel miserable and frustrated and drive you to drink in your off-hours.

I was stuck with miserable jobs in my late teens and early to mid 20s (working for a furniture company, driving a delivery truck for a lumber yard, chain-link fence, tree surgery). I was finally freed from that treadmill when I broke into New York journalism in the late ’70s. If I’d never broken out of that blue-collar cycle…I don’t want to think about it. But it would’ve been awful.